Saturday, 12 April 2014

One Night in Lisbon

When I saw the sign, I had to snag my heart before it leapt from my body.

I’d just seen L’Arbito, part of an Italian Cinema festival that opened yesterday. (It was one of those funny/black euro films—in English and Portuguese subtitles, for you language learners—that plays out Albert Camus’ “Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.” It was fun, the funny-black balance maybe a tad off, as if the film wasn’t sure. Since it was in competition at the festival and someone had handed me a ballot, I gave it 4 of 5.)

Next in line, this night of not sitting at home watching cruise ships make u-turns in the river, was a 22:30 set at the Hot Club of Portugal, the jazz club just around the corner from the cinema, by The Mingus Project, two horns and a rhythm section playing the music of Charles Mingus. That’s where I was headed, map in hand, folding and unfolding, when I turned the corner and saw the sign and felt the heartflip. FLAMENCO, 22:30. In bright chalk on a sandwich board outside Taberna Iberica. Well, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12! I stepped inside.

All the tables were reserved “for the flamenco,” I was told, so I kept busy at the bar for half an hour, debating whether to stay for flamenco or keep going for jazz. Can you feel my pain, my readers? (That’s you, Uncle Dick and Aunt Tracy). Deciding to stick with the jazz, I walked the short block to the jazz club, the first one there when they opened the doors at 22:00.

A word now about artistic journeys. These five musicians have dedicated themselves to Mingus, a jazz giant who died about 30 years ago. Mingus himself, though known to everyone in the jazz world, never had much audience; these young guys would have even less. Obviously the music itself keeps them going, when the pool of both aficionados and gigs is smaller than for flamenco or even fado, in this part of the world anyway. Tonight at the club they built ferocious fires under each other, swinging like crazy. The other 23 hours didn’t matter.

I didn’t stay for the second set. It was 23:45, come on! But on the way back to the metro I stopped in for some Flamenco. This was a Portuguese variant, more poppish, more Gypsy Kingish, than I’d heard in flamenco’s Andalusian heartlands of Cádiz, Sevilla and Jerez, and the audience wasn’t as hardwired to the form. But guitar, vocal, two dancers, one percussionist—it was lively stuff, and the five of them were fully engaged, at home in those complex flamenco rhythms, and having a blast.

I salute all these artists who pursue their art in the face of passivity, cowardice, resistance, material hardship, commercial pressures, ignorance, corruption, fakery and other hard times.

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